Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens 1852-1919. One of the Old West's Most Fearless Lawmen.
Commodore Perry Owens was born July 29th, 1852, and was raised by his mother in both Tennessee and Indiana. At the age of thirteen he left to work in Oklahoma and New Mexico as a cowhand.
In 1881 when Owens was twenty-nine years old, he worked as a ranch foreman in Arizona where it was alleged that he killed two Navajo Indian braves after a party of them tried to steal horses. There is another story that Owens was arrested by an Indian agent named Riordan for the murder of a young Navajo Indian boy near his homestead in Navajo Springs but was acquitted of the murder.
Owens had a shock of long red hair that he let grow down around his shoulders, he was a gentleman who was liked by most who knew him. He built a modest house and livestock ranch called The Z-Bar Ranch and also guarded horses for the National Mail and Transportation Company.
Commodore Perry Owens was elected sheriff of Apache County, Arizona in 1886, at the age of thirty-four. He became the sixth sheriff to occupy the office since its creation on Feb 24th, 1879. It has been documented that he carried out his job in a pleasant manner and had a cool and collected persona.
He arrested drunken cowboys, cattle rustlers and trouble makers, he also sorted out disputes amongst the locals keeping trouble down to a minimum, which was not a bad feat considering that he was responsible for over twenty thousand square miles of territory.
He had a gunfight in Holbrook, Arizona where he shot two men, killing one of them as they tried to draw their pistols on him.
In September 1887, Owens was trying to sort out trouble with an infamous gang of outlaws, they were headed by a man named Andy Blevins a.k.a Cooper. Blevins his half-brothers and another family called the Graham family were notorious cattle rustlers and were also murder suspects. These two families were starting troubles later known as the Pleasant Valley War with the Tewksbury family because they had sheep and cattle ranches.
It was on Sunday September 4th, 1887, that Owens went alone to the Blevins place in Holbrook to arrest Andy Blevins for cattle rustling. Blevins answered the door with a pistol in his hand to see Owens standing there with a Winchester rifle nonchalantly resting in his arms.
Owens told him he was serving him a warrant for his arrest and to come out, Blevins answered by slamming the door shut. Commodore Perry Owens who would stand for little or no nonsense, kneeled down and shouldered his Winchester repeater rifle, firing it through the door and hitting Blevins in the stomach. Below is an image of a Winchester 1886, similar to the one that Owens used.
Andy Blevins reeled back and collapsed fatally wounded and died several minutes later. One of the half-brothers shoved the barrel of their pistol through a crack in the door and shot back at Owens, the bullet missed and instead killed Blevins horse that was tied to a tree just adjacent to where Owens was kneeling.
Owens didn't flinch and fired another shot through the door where the pistol shot had come from and hit Blevins half-brother in the shoulder. Owens backed away from the house in an attempt to see as many windows as possible, he then observed a man by the name of Mose Roberts jump out of a side window, with pistol in hand and make a run for it. Owens coolly levelled his rifle and shot Roberts through the back, the bullet exiting his chest.
Roberts was critically injured and managed to get to the back door of the house before falling down dead. Owens calmly steadied his Winchester and waited for any more developments, when suddenly a fifteen year old youth named Samuel Houston Blevins ran straight out of the front door, foolishly brandishing a Colt .45 revolver that he had taken from the now deceased Andy Blevins.
The image below isn't too accurate, but is still a colorful illustration of the last events as they unfolded.
Owens quickly took aim and fired at the youth, the bullet slammed into his chest and exited through his back, he fell backwards as his mother rushed by to grab him. Unfortunately the youth died then and there in his mothers arms. Quite a tragic event, but Owens feared for his life, the youth was brandishing a .45 and in situations like these there is only the fast or the dead.
Considering that Owens was alone, there was no modern day S.W.A.T teams, no negotiators or contingents of armed back up police officers, and he boldly went up to a house that he knew was full of armed outlaws, it was a brave action and one that should have been recognised more by the higher authorities. They stated that the killings were justifiable and there were eye witness reports from other locals that backed it up.
But it can be concluded that decisions had secretly been made and Owens commission as Sheriff of Apache County did not have long to last. Maybe the higher authorities wanted the days of shoot outs and gun fighting sheriffs to end.
A strange event happened some time later when several outlaws that he had arrested including the notorious Robert Red McNeil and Kid Swing escaped from his custody, when their cell doors were mysteriously opened one night. The call that Owens was incompetent went out and even though Owens was a brave gun fighting Sheriff he was of poor education and literacy and all this conveniently added up for him to be defeated in the next election for Sheriff.
So in late November 1888, Owens former deputy sheriff, George Creaghe was elected as the new sheriff of Apache County. Four weeks later on New Years Day 1889, Owens departed from Holbrook, Apache County leaving his gun and Apache County sheriffs badge on the desk.
Not one to be dissuaded, Owens successfully applied to become Deputy U.S Marshal under command of Bill Kidder-Meade and also served two years as 1st Sheriff of the newly formed Navajo County from 1895.
At around 1900, Owens left the law enforcement agencies altogether to open up a general store and saloon in a town called Seligman in Yavapai County, Arizona. He always said he never had time to marry but in 1902, aged fifty, he married a woman named Elizabeth Barrett and together they had a child. A photo of this period is pictured below. Perry Owens also now with slightly shorter hair!
Around 1910 they went to live in San Diego, California, Owens went back to Seligman, Yavapai County in 1912 and witnessed Arizona become the forty-eighth state of America.
On May 10th, 1919, at the age of sixty-six, Owens sadly died
of Bright's disease, a form of paralysis of the brain. He is buried
in the Citizens Cemetery in Flagstaff, Arizona. R.I.P
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Page created July 25th 2009. Updated November 8th 2012